Our first 30 days in Malaysia are nearly up – somehow we have nearly been here for a month! In this time, we have settled into our house, rented a car and have the kids in preschool. So how is it all going? How have we adapted? Did we pick the right place?
For people who are new to this blog, we decided to leave Australia in late December to become digital nomads. We picked Penang as it had the combination of factors which seemed to best suit us as a family. At the moment, we are committed to three months in Penang before spending 3 weeks in Sri Lanka. We will then either return to Penang or try elsewhere.
Living in Penang
Penang is awesome. We love it here! All the reasons we picked it, have turned out to be very valid and it was the right choice for us. We have been able to set up a good life here quickly and easily and we are all very happy and have settled in well. The kids have had no issues whatsoever. They don’t want to leave here.
We spent our first two weeks living in a great Airbnb apartment while we waited for a house to become available that I could rent from a friend. It was worth the wait!
We are living in a big 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 2 living area house with a yard. It is fabulous! It was set up by Australians (in fact, many of the items in the house have come from Australia), so it is set up well for expats. We are in a good location in Batu Ferringhi and it is a fabulous price.
It also seems very fitting that we ended up here. The first time I heard about this house was in one of the first family trvel blogs I read, Our Travel Lifestyle. This was the blog that introduced me to the notion of digital nomads and is a big part of the reason we are on this path today. It has to be a great sign that we are in their house, right?!
We didn’t live in an actual house in Australia so it is a bit strange to suddenly have so much space and a yard! Our only problem is that the cleaner hasn’t been showing up. We need to sort this out as I do not like cleaning such a big place!
The food has to be the best part of Penang. It is delicious, cheap and readily available. I love Indian food so much that I have unfortunately not eaten much else! The kids are happy with rice or noodles, roti, anything that isn’t spicy.
There is a big Tesco supermarket about 15 minutes drive away that has everything we could possibly need, so that makes life easy as well.
We have hired a car for our 3 months in Penang. We don’t have a choice about this as we need it to get the kids to preschool. However, I am glad that we did this as it is making it so much easier to get around and explore. Plenty of families cope fine relying on public transport, but the journey times can be long and buses are not all that frequent and it would drive us crazy with our young kids.
Driving here is fine. I actually really enjoy it! I like that I can change lanes whenever I want and turn from wherever I want. It makes it easier since I rarely know where I am going. Things are crazier on the road than at home, but they are not that crazy really. People mostly follow rules except for parking where they want, changing lanes when they want and going through red lights. The other drivers all expect you to do the same, so it feels quite safe to change lanes right in front of someone and no one ever beeps at you (except if you are stopped at a red light and they are behind you and want to go!).
Preschool has been awesome. We knew that finding the right preschool for the kids would be the key to a location working for us. It is the biggest reason that we picked Penang as a base as it seemed easy to find something appropriate here, and it has been easy. I have never had the kids adapt to child care so quickly. I actually use it as a threat for bad behaviour – as in, if they don’t behave, I won’t let them go anymore.
Back in Australia, both kids would be in kindergarten this year – the two years of preschool before primary school starts. Here in Malaysia, preschool is quite formal from 4 years old and continues until the kids start primary school at 7.
We were worried that S may not enjoy the formal classes, but she is absolutely loving it. She has three hours of classes in the morning in three different languages and she is lapping it up. She comes home and wants to do more. She is ripping through her “school” books that we brought with us and is enjoying sharing her new words in Malaysian and Chinese. I have been wondering why more formal classes at this age does not seem to be an option at home as it obviously suits some kids.
As you can tell, the whole experience has been overwhelmingly positive. However, I do have one gripe. S has reported some teasing – being called big and fat and an ogre. She is so much bigger than the other kids – she towers over other kids her age in Australia, let alone here – that I guess this is not that surprising. The other kids are all Malaysian so she does stand out.
The teasing does seem to be very minimal as she barely mentions it and it does not seem to bother her – she tells me she just shuts her eyes and ignore it until it stops. I am not sure where she got that from – I am very impressed by her mature approach. 99% of the time she just says positive things, so I am trying not to think about it.
Our budget is AUD$3000 a month. It is working well for all of the above and is providing us with a much better lifestyle than in Australia (where our budget was a whopping $7500 a month). I would like to add more to this budget once we can though. Wine has become a luxury item here as it is relatively expensive and I miss it!
The only problem we have really had was on entry – for some reason they gave S, Z and I only 30 days entry to Malaysia when we flew in from Bali. We have flown into Malaysia lots of times before and always been given 90 days. It is typical that the one time we actually needed longer, we didn’t get it. They didn’t even ask us or anything. I noticed it after we had left immigration (J flew in on a separate flight and was fine).
The most annoying part is that we only needed 31 days – we have flights booked to Krabi for next weekend (to celebrate my birthday, yay!). I investigated several options to solve this problem but in the end it seemed easiest to just leave Malaysia a day earlier. It’s too expensive to change our flights so we are catching buses to Thailand instead and leaving a day earlier. I am not looking forward to this! A backpacker shuttle with preschoolers is not my idea of fun. Hopefully, there are no issues and we get 90 days on our return.
Being a digital nomad
Our online business has been going very well. J is still trying to find his footing in the online world, but I have been exceeding my income goals. In January, I made my first goal – which is earning half of what we need to be self sustaining here. This month, I am actually on track to make the whole amount that we need which is AUD$100 a day. I have been working on my new site about working from home here.
We are very much enjoying the challenges that this represents, I am definitely liking the fact that I get more dedicated time to this goal than I did back in Australia. We do work hard though. We are certainly not out sight seeing or relaxing when the kids are in preschool like I think some people might believe. Cross your fingers for us!
Things are going very well for us. The kids have preschool 3 days a week, J and I work an extra day on top of that with the other one of us playing with the kids. We eat out when we want. We visit attractions. We have regular trips planned to explore more of Asia. We take the time to enjoy life. Things are very good! At this moment in time, I think we will be back to continue living in Penang once we finish our adventures in Sri Lanka.
Disclaimer: Our links to Airbnb are affiliate links. If you join up and make a booking after clicking on one of these, we will both receive around $30 credit!
Tags: Living in Asia Malaysia Travel Blog